The product manager role is strategic. Product managers identify valuable problems in the market and determine which of them should be solved with software. They create a vision and strategy for solving those problems. Everything else happens in that context.
James Shore has written a post on the importance of staffing the team with a good product manager. James is recognized as a significant contributor to the Agile community. Several people struggle to rationalize the role of a product manager in an Agile process. Through this article and others, James presents a perspective that the product manager owns the vision.
Without the vision of a good product manager, the team is likely to flounder. It will spend time delivering functionality that isn’t really important. It will develop low-value, high-cost functionality at the expense of high-value, low-cost functionality. It may spend time “thrashing”–switching back and forth between multiple features, never really completing any of them.
Prioritization and direction setting is the element of product management that is most visible to the implementation team. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that there is huge value in positioning, persuasion and other outbound activities. Those elements of software product success seem to generally be out of scope when discussing Agile practices. The prioritization process is very much in scope. It determines which use cases get implemented in each timebox (sprint, release, iteration).
James closes his article with this great conclusion:
So… get a good product manager. If your company won’t commit the resources for this critical member of the team, maybe your product isn’t valuable enough to be developing in the first place.
We won’t try and improve on it. Thanks for the great thoughts, James!